Fresh attention to a Seattle inferiority complex

Seattle Freeze

Seattle Freeze

Since becoming New To Seattle in 2011, I have written in this space on several occasions–like here and here–about what strikes me as the city’s collective inferiority complex. Elements of it include the shun-thy-newcomer phenomenon known as the Seattle Freeze (which you can look up on Wikipedia), defensiveness about the weather and the passive-aggressive trait sometimes characterized as Seattle Nice.

On a number of occasions I even have gotten into civil but rather intense discussions about the inferiority complex issue with fellow (and usually far longer-standing) Seattleites who opined I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Over and over, it’s been asserted to me that Seattle is a city supremely secure of its place. So I often argued alone.

That’s why for me it was so interesting to see above the fold on the front page of yesterday’s Seattle Times the start of an essay by lead columnist Danny Westneat about–Seattle’s inferiority complex.

His hook was all the insane hoopla in Seattle in the run-up to the NFC championship game on Sunday between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. “Reflecting On Our Bay Area Complex,” the print headline read. “Seattle’s old-as-dirt envy makes this much more than a game.” Accompanying the column was a huge cartoon taking up a full third of the page depicting a stressed-out Seahawks fan clutching a Starbucks cup whose eyeglasses reflected quintessential San Francisco sights like the Golden Gate Bridge, a trolley car, sun (that weather thing again)–and five Super Bowl trophies.

Westneat likened the Seattle mentality to what a writer in Brazil–another sports-crazy place–called that country’s “ongoing ‘stray-dog’ inferiority complex.”


Westneat was mainly writing about Seattle’s pouting over San Francisco, entertainingly describing a century-and-a-half of perceived slights and one-uppsmanships.

In boomtown Seattle of today, where we’re smug that we’re ranked No. 1 for this or that, face it, we remain deep-down envious of only one other. Her hipness. Her wealth. Her arts, architecture, high-tech, wine, culture, politics, you name it–we still peek insecurely south to check: What Would San Francisco Do?

The columnist allowed as how the complex has ebbed over the years–“Minting multiple billionaires will do that to a town,” he wrote–but that it’s still present, especially where sports and San Francisco are concerned. “This game could go a long way to kick that old inferiority complex,” he concluded. “We could finally step out of the shadow of our big sister to the south.”

The last time I looked, Westneat’s column had drawn more than 100 online comments. They were overwhelming critical of his premise, with more than a few proving up my understanding of Seattle Nice. “You insecure little wimp,” ranted one. “Put down the pipe,” wrote another. “Please fire this moron,” requested a third.

A psychologist would have a field day.

Because I perceive the collective city complex as embracing a lot more than just San Francisco, I don’t think it’s going to end with a big football win or two. Still, in the land of the Seattle Freeze I’m grateful for any intellectual company.

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